The folks over at Blogabull have a post up about the biggest "What-If?" scenarios in the last 10 or so years for the Bulls. These hypothetical flights of fancy are quite a bit more vivid in basketball, where so much hinges the status of a handful of players, but it prompted me to think a little about the Cubs. The one question in recent memory that has always stood out in my mind is: "What if Ricketts had acted quickly and decisively upon taking ownership of the team?" One of the criticisms of Tom Ricketts that followed him from the business world is that he took his time in overhauling operations, waiting until well after it was evident that a change was necessary. I think it's fair to say that the same applies to his tenure of the Cubs, as he waited until midseason of 2011 to change regimes.
There are a lot of ways to go with this question, but I'm going to try to be very narrow in my focus. Let's assume that Ricketts had started the search for a new general manager prior to actually taking ownership of the team. He approaches Theo Epstein, who is quite happy in his Boston paradise, thank you very much, but would strongly recommend Jed Hoyer for the gig. Ricketts takes this idea seriously, and instead of joining the Padres, Jed Hoyer takes over for the Cubs and brings along Jason McLeod to run things on the amateur side. (Hey, this is my hypothetical. Don't like it? Make your own.)
I think it's fair to say that the front office's biggest disappointment since coming on was the implementation of the new CBA almost immediately after their hiring, and it's restriction of compensation picks and draft/international spending. Had they taken over after 2009, what might their big budget drafts in 2010 and 2011 looked like? Fortunately, we have some frame of reference here given that Theo and Jed were heavily involved in drafts for other teams.
2010: No Hayden Simpson!
I'm not sure what the Cubs draft would have looked like in 2010, but saying that Hayden Simpson would not have been a part of it is blatantly obvious. Would the team have opted for big bonus-seeking Zach Lee, whom they coveted in the trade talks for Ryan Dempster last year? Or would it have been eventual Red Sox pick Kolbrin Vitek? Maybe they would have reached for Anthony Ranaudo, knowing he wouldn't have been around in the second.
How about Padres second-rounder Jedd Gyorko at 65 overall? He would look good manning second or third for Cubs right now, and the Padres may not have been on him without Hoyer/McLeod pushing for it. Or would it have been Brandon Workman?
2011: Bullet Dodged?
I'm pretty confident in saying that 2010's draft would have looked a whole lot better (I mean, really: could it have been worse?). 2011? Maybe not. You see, in 2011 the Cubs actually spent money on the draft, shelling out for Javier Baez, Dan Vogelbach, and Dillon Maples, among others. The story goes that Jim Hendry caught wind that the new CBA was coming down the pike and convinced Ricketts to spend big (though I personally suspect that Ricketts himself may have been the driving force).
In 2011, the Padres picked second baseman Cory Spangenberg 10th overall, immediately after the Cubs took Javier Baez. And, frankly, I don't think Baez would have been a Cub if Hoyer/McLeod were running that draft. Relevant quotes:
McLeod said there were two players selected before Spangenberg the organization liked, though they essentially got the guy they wanted.
“He’s the second-best hitter in the country,” said Hoyer. “For a while, I thought he was our sleeper, but he hit his way out of that.”
And then there's this anecdote from McLeod:
McLeod had just scouted Baez, who played for Arlington Country Day, a Jacksonville private school that became a kind of barnstorming team after withdrawing from the Florida High School Athletic Association.
The competition was suspect and McLeod had no idea what he’d just seen, telling Hoyer: “I don’t know if this kid is going to be Manny Ramirez or not get to Double-A.”
Now, Baez is no sure thing (though, wow), but no GM on Earth is trading him straight-up for Cory Spangenberg at the moment.
Maybe you want to take the hypothetical further, and suppose that the Cubs would have started shedding older talent in 2010 and ended up with a higher pick. Would we be talking about the young infield tandem of Gyorko and Rendon right now? Would this front office even given a thought to Dan Vogelbach?
What are your all-time Cub "What-If's?"